I’ve been in 4 different shops over the past 5 years. For most of that time, I was just trying to put together the tools needed to make bicycle frames I could be proud of. But lately I've re-prioritized my space for machining the bicycle framebuilding tools I sell.
The space I currently occupy is tiny, at about 360 square feet. I’ve worked pretty hard to organize the space and make the most out of it.
My CNC Milling Machine
This machine was made in 1996, and I bought it in the spring of 2018. It's a Bridgeport Torq-Cut 22 with a 6500rpm spindle, 22" x travel, and a 22-pocket tool changer. It's even wired for a 4th axis if I ever get that far. What was once a serious industrial machine is now something most modern machine shops wouldn't waste their time on.
It's not that the machine is any less capable today than it was 22 years ago. In fact, with the development of CAM software to write the G-code programs for you, a machine like this is more user friendly and capable than ever. But when compared to new machines, it is slow and lacks some features and fluidity.
It's a great machine for me because it fits in my shop and I don't have to make big payments on it every month. It's my on-ramp to the business and machining world. Sooner or later I’ll probably trade up to a newer, more capable machine. For now, I'm glad to have it and put it to work making good tools for bicycles framebuilders.
Bridgeport Vertical Milling Machine
This manual mill was my first real machine tool. It was made in 1967 and I bought it in 2015. I used it to make a ton of little tools and fixtures around the shop, as well as to miter all the tubing for my bikes for a few years.
I think a Bridgeport style mill is the manual milling machine for a bicycle framebuilder in a shop where space is limited. When you have more space, having a handful of horizontal milling machines is even better, as they can be set up for dedicated operations and they generally have a smaller footprint and are more rigid by design. But they just aren't that versatile, and you need a lot of shop space to make that work well.
One Bridgeport style mill can be set up to do all of your tube mitering, be used as a killer drill press, and be used to machine random tools and fixtures specific for your process that can't be bought. I intend to offer more and more framebuilding tools that are ideal for use with a Bridgeport mill.
I think framebuilders in smaller shops would be well-served to have a nicely equipped Bridgeport like I’ve had the past few years. The setup I recommend would include a digital readout, a Kurt-style milling vise, and a few shelves within arm's reach to hold all the collets, necessary wrenches, a drill chuck, and the full complement of hole saws and arbors for mitering.
A machine set up like this in addition to the right bicycle framebuilding tools that can be set up and put away quickly is a super effective way to integrate machine mitering into your framebuilding process for relatively little money and space.
Here’s a video of me explaining why the Bridgeport is so good for bicycle framebuilding.
My Clausing Lathe
I sometimes wonder how people live without access to a lathe, as they are just so incredibly useful. I bought this machine when I bought my manual Bridgeport mill.
I think for framebuilding, the mill is more important, but the lathe is a close second. It's super useful for squaring and preparing head tubes, making your own seat collars, and spinning tubes if you want to remove mill scale and polish them up. It’s especially useful for making all sorts of bushings, spacers, collars, posts, and more in daily shop life.
Here’s a video I made explaining why lathes are so useful for bicycle framebuilding.